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Don't Be Fooled in Haiti: Avoiding the Mafia and The Trials of Finding Food

Where: Haiti
April 19, 2011 at 10:51 AM | by | ()

A rental property for volunteers

In the wake of Japan's tragic events, the world has been quick to forget Haiti's 7.0 earthquake, which ruled the headlines through 2010. As the country continues to rebuild, the tourists slowly trickle back. Jaunted special correspondent Soo Ah M. Lee recently returned from a medical volunteering mission in Port-Au-Prince, and will share her Haiti travel stories and voluntourism tips all this week. This is her story:

I went to Haiti with a non-profit that gives 100% of their proceeds to those in need. When I paid $300 for my stay in Port-au-Prince, I thought this was quite a lot since Haiti is a developing country. Alas, I came to discover that it was spent on lodging, dining, transportation, translators, and admittance to a private beach. Everything was covered with $300. Regardless, I realized later that I was misled in many ways that could not be helped.

The place I slept was a house rented by missionaries supported by the non-profit with whom I traveled to Haiti. We were lucky; it had a full kitchen (refrigerator and a stove/oven) with a dining area, 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms (the two bathroom I saw had bathtubs in them), 1 storage room, and two communal areas; some rooms even had their own balcony. There was one big downside to this nice place, however...

A 4-bedroom, 4-bath clean home is a very expensive property to rent in Haiti, and part of my trip cost went towards the monthly $1,000 rent. According to the translators and missionaries, the rent was really very steep; however, it could not be helped for two reasons. First, it was a foreign-owned home. Secondly, you pay more for securing a stable rental owned by people without mafia connections.

Some tips for securing your own lodging in Haiti:
· Plan your stay way ahead of time. I have not seen any hotels or motels around town, as most seem to sit in the outer areas closer to the beaches.
· When we were away from the city, near the private beach residences, there was an Obama Hotel (sorry readers, I do not have a photo of this because I was too slow with my camera) and La Foi Divine Hotel (aha, I wasnít that slow on this one, so check out the photo above); however, itís not like the resorts in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was just a simple building.

Dining in Haiti:

Most visitors are skeptical about food consumption in Haiti, but I found that most fruits, vegetables, rice, and packaged baked goods tend to be safe as long as you are eating them fresh. Markets are the easiest places to obtain food, but for travelers who only trust grocery stores, there is a Bel Monte (a grocery chain found on other Caribbean Islands) near the UN. Beware of the Bel Monte, though, as food prices tend to be three times the cost you'd pay on the street.

For fine dining, I have noticed only one restaurant geared towards visitors: the Sugar Cane History Museum and Restaurant. The translators stated that this was the place where all events with foreigners would take place, so we decided to stop by for drinks and desserts. Although the small indoor museum was closed, the rest of the place was outdoors with a lawn tent, al fresco tables; and lots of large sugar cane machinery for ambience. Here it is easy to act touristy and relax a bit. Just don't be misled; their $6 "fresh" fruit juices are from cans and an ice cream sundae with three small scoops of ice cream cost about $8.

Some tips for dining on your own in Haiti:
· For about 15 Haitian Goudes (about 38 US cents), you can get about 5-7 pieces of bread (comparable to the looks and sizes of Cosiís flat bread).
· Do not drink the sink water since itís not safe like the US. Buy bottled water and when you buy them, make sure the seal has not be broken. You can try to buy the packaged water people sell on the streets; I think they were about 5 Goudes (about 13 cents) for about a cup of water in a plastic bagging.
· More than half the customers at Bel Monte were UN soldiers. As a result, the cashier speaks a little English.
· Try Haitian mangos! They're amazing and only in season three times a year.
· The Sugar Can History Museum and Restaurant, though one of the only tourist-friendly restaurants, isn't great. Only about half of the drinks on the menu were available and you'll be waiting an inexplicable amount of time for juice and ice cream.

Tomorrow, in Part 3 of this series, Soo Ah will share the state of transportation and if the beaches are still worth visiting. Don't forget to read Part 1!

[Photos: Soo Ah M. Lee]

Archived Comments:

Haiti is not for the faint--hearted

I would not recommend visiting Haiti without first getting in contact with Haitians. There's tons of us living in the US and we do have websites, you can go to haitiweblinks.com and you will connect with tons of Haitian websites. you visit one of those and ask questions about where to stay and where to eat. Lets get one thing straight Haiti is expensive. what you may consider basic is luxury in Haiti so you will pay for luxury, $300 is cheap. I have stayed at houses where I pay $1000 USD a week. general rate for a good 4star hotels goes from $85-$250 USD a night. Missionaries tend to keep it cheap so they hang in the slums. the Hotels and restaurants that cater to foreigners are expensive, it's not that they don't exist but you are not likely to find missionaries there because missionaries like to toughen it out. where do you think the embassy workers, UN and the large NGOs personnel hangs out? Haiti is a complicated place, I strongly doubt you can you can digest ( understand it well enough to teach someone about visiting Haiti) in a few visits. that's like me visiting Brooklyn and think I can tell people what the United States is like. Haiti has ten different. you can talk about your experience but no broad generalizations because I don't think you know Haiti enough to generalize like haiti only have one restaurant cater to tourist. It's those type of silly generalizations that is keeping the place as a basket case. after one visit everyone think they're an expert on the place!